Towing titan Gasper Fiore was so politically connected that his daughter last year helped write an amendment to the Michigan Department of Transportation budget that ensured his company would win a multimillion-dollar contract, federal documents show.
In the end, the amendment wasn’t necessary. MDOT backed down — and Fiore was told nearly a month in advance that he would get the contract when it was awarded, which he did, according to FBI wiretap evidence.
Along the way, Fiore, who for years dominated the towing industry in southeastern Michigan, appeared to have gotten help from then state Rep. Brian Banks, D-Detroit, and, possibly, state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, the wiretapped conversations show.
In wiretap evidence obtained by the Free Press this week, the FBI offers a glimpse into how the well-connected Fiore built his towing empire by currying favor with high ranking officials across southeast Michigan. While Fiore has admitted in federal court to bribing just one Macomb County official, the FBI says he was in cahoots for years with many, from state lawmakers to police officials to a Detroit city councilman who was dating his daughter.
The Free Press obtained a copy of the wiretap documents after they were briefly unsealed in a filing in U.S. District Court last Friday and quickly resealed.
The wiretap transcripts were intended to bolster the FBI's request for more time to conduct the wiretaps.
"... additional wire and electronic interceptions are needed to fully understand and be able to prove the entire scope of FIORE's corrupt activities, including the quid pro quo involved with his relationships with numerous public officials," the FBI said.
In the documents, the FBI names 18 targets of an ongoing public corruption probe. They include Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland, who has not been charged; former Detroit Deputy Police Chief Celia Washington, who has been charged with taking bribes from Fiore; and Banks, who has not been charged.
Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland in August 2015.Buy Photo
Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland in August 2015. (Photo: Bill Laitner, Detroit Free Press)
"Fiore is involved in bid-rigging with legislator Brian Banks," Special FBI Agent Robert Beeckman wrote in 2016 affidavit, which included intercepted text messages and phone calls between Fiore and Banks.
According to the affidavit, in a May 5, 2016, phone conversation, Fiore and Banks spoke about the MDOT contract when Banks mentioned Fiore's political "might."
"MDOT said you have a mighty force behind you ... They said: 'We don't want to mess with that force,' " Banks said.
Fiore responded: "Mmmmmm yeah. Does that mean, So what they doing with the deal then?"
Banks: "So, you good so far. You hear me."
Detroit police department legal adviser Celia WashingtonBuy Photo
Detroit police department legal adviser Celia Washington in December 2015. (Photo: Romaine Blanquart, Detroit Free Press)
Banks could not be reached for comment. Banks, who has eight prior felony convictions, resigned his state House seat Feb. 6 after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of filing false financial statements. He had faced four criminal charges related to falsifying documents to obtain a $3,000 loan from a Detroit-area credit union.
The conversation between Banks and Fiore was among many that the government obtained after bugging Fiore's phone last year. According to court documents, the government obtained a search warrant in April 2016 to tap Fiore's phone, saying it had "probable cause" that Fiore and 17 other targets were involved in several crimes: extortion, wire fraud, bribery and conspiracy to distribute marijuana.
The court filing shows Fiore was obsessed with retaining a lucrative state contract for providing emergency roadside assistance on Detroit area freeways. The Emergency Road Response program is paid close to $2 million a year by the Michigan Department of Transportation to provide roadside assistance. Fiori and family members had held the state contract since 2011, but it was coming up for renewal in the summer of 2016.
On May 5, 2016, Fiore spoke with his ex-wife, Joan, about it.
In the recorded call, Joan Fiore references a proposed amendment to the MDOT budget, written by the Fiores' daughter, Jennifer Fiore, “that would require contracting companies to pre-qualify, showing they had at least five years’ experience. This would eliminate Fiore’s competition, Integral Blue, in the ERR (Emergency Road Response) contract,” FBI agents stated in the court filing.
“Um, they just called about ERR, they said that, uh, they’re gonna talk with us and work with us on our amendment,” a transcript of Joan Fiore’s recorded telephone conversation with Gasper Fiore states. “And they didn’t really want to do that,” she added. “So they want to work with us on the amendment ‘cause it has to go to the Senate. And now they see how much political might you have behind you, and they want to work with you.”
That same day, a phone call between Gasper Fiore and Banks also discussed the MDOT contract. Banks, like Fiore’s ex-wife, also talked about MDOT’s change of heart to supporting the Fiore-proposed amendment, based upon unspecified political forces in Fiore’s corner.
“MDOT said you have a mighty force behind you,” Banks stated.
Fiore laughed in response.
“They said you – ‘We, we don’t want to mess with that force behind you.’”
Later in the conversation, Banks again reassures Fiore: “You know with the MDOT, you good.”
By May 26, 2016, however, the amendment to MDOT’s budget was no longer deemed necessary by the Fiores. The lucrative Emergency Road Response contract was again theirs.
“Your contract, I’m not supposed to tell anyone, but it should be on the June 21 ad board … when they approve it,” Jennifer Fiore told her father in a recorded telephone conversation.
“You get a letter, that they send online, and it says you win. And then they send your contract to ad board a few weeks later.”
The Fiores then mention interaction with Casperson, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.
“I stopped by and saw Randy, ‘cause I still have to pay him some money. He did that …,” Gasper Fiore said.
“Pay who?” Jennifer Fiore replied.
“Well, that guy,” Gasper Fiore said. “Was he helpful?”
“Casperson?” she said.
“Yeah,” replied Gasper Fiore.
Jennifer Fiore then replied that the amendment to the MDOT budget was being pulled. “We don’t need to pursue the amendment if we win,” she said.
“Right, I got all that,” Gasper Fiore said. “But … Dell (a lawyer who appears to be acting as a lobbyist, according to the FBI) told Randy that … I think we had the meeting and all that was helpful, and he took care of him.”
“It is unclear who is ‘taking care of’ whom here,” the FBI states in the filing. It also doesn't say who Randy is.
MDOT spokesman Jeff Cranson responded to Free Press inquiries Thursday with an e-mailed statement: “It is true that MDOT resists language or policies that would give any business an advantage over another,” he said. “MDOT absolutely does not evaluate contract proposals based on a vendor’s political influence.”
Messages left with Casperson, and e-mails left with his legislative assistant, Hannah Kissling, were not immediately returned Thursday evening.
The targets also include Washington, who as legal counsel to the Detroit Police Department oversaw towing rotations. The FBI claims in court records that Fiore met privately with Washington on numerous occasions, at places like Coldstone and a bar, and that Washington gave him her personal e-mail address to communicate through so that she wouldn't get caught working on his behalf.
"In my experience, it is significant that a public official like Celia Washington has many meetings with a city vendor about a subject matter that is within the scope of her employment, and she always meets the vendor away from her office," FBI agent Beeckman wrote in a filing. "I believe that she is attempting to steer work to Fiore, and that she is attempting to find ways to work around a system which has been put in place specifically so that one towing vendor will not be favored over others."
In a previous interview with the Free Press, Washington denied any wrongdoing, saying "it's absolutely untrue" that she helped Fiore and that she was "livid" with the allegations. She claims that she did not have the authority to influence whether Fiore was chosen to be on the police towing rotation.
Meanwhile, her attorney, Arnold Reed, is trying to block her phone calls from being admitted as evidence in the case. He declined comment. But he states in court documents that the government "never had probable cause to believe that Fiore and Washington were involved in any" extortion, fraud or marijuana crimes.
"In essence, there was no probable cause to believe any of the ... offenses would be uncovered during the wiretap," Reed wrote in the Dec. 22 filing.
According to court documents, Fiore also was especially tight with police officers, who, the FBI claims in court records, were involved in many of Fiore's shenanigans.
For example, a Detroit police officer once joked with Fiore about taking bribes from a one of Fiore's towing competitors, records show. Fiore responded by telling the officer that he would turn him in to the police. The officer responded: "Oh man ... you'd be right there with me."
Fiore, 57, of Grosse Pointe Shores, pleaded guilty Dec. 20 to paying $7,000 in cash bribes to Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds in order to obtain a municipal towing contract with the township. Fiore paid the bribes to Reynolds through Charles B. Rizzo, who was cooperating with federal law enforcement at the time of the bribe payments.
Rizzo, the former CEO of Rizzo Environmental Services, pleaded guilty to bribery and embezzlement last month.